How to overcome shoulder pain

By Balachandran Sai Ram Kumar

Pain in the shoulders is common among cricketers. As a sports physiotherapist attending to the needs of cricketers, two of the most common complaints I come across are pain in the shoulder area while bowling and throwing.

Evidence from international literature covering cricket injuries identifies shoulder injury as a common disorder afflicting cricketers, with fast bowlers being more susceptible.

The objective of this column is to educate cricketers in Singapore on the causes of shoulder pain and offer simple remedial strategies to overcome chronic shoulder disorders which may otherwise limit their participation in competitive and recreational cricket.

There are two types of injuries that the shoulder sustains. The acute traumatic injury that is sustained on the field and the chronic version which results from a combination of muscle imbalance around the shoulders, poor posture of the upper torso and overuse of structures surrounding the shoulders.

Acute injuries can happen due to direct impact on the shoulders as a result of a fall or due to a collision. There is usually pain of varying intensities associated with soft-tissue damage that can last for one to three days. With adequate rest, icing and protection of the injured area, the pain most likely subsides.

Medical attention will be necessary for more serious injuries. Following pain reduction with physiotherapy and medical management, a rehab programme is undertaken and the cricketer is back in action in approximately six to eight weeks. More serious injuries may need a longer time for return to the game.

But can shoulder structures be affected in the absence of trauma?

The answer is yes. This is the type of injury that we come across commonly among the recreational cricketers in Singapore.

Failure to pursue an active shoulder rehab is a common cause of recurrent chronic shoulder issues that can limit the cricketer’s ability to throw, bowl and in some circumstances bat with efficiency. Pain results in reduced mobility of the injured area and this in turn leads to deconditioning and weakness of the surrounding muscles.

Muscle imbalances around the shoulder can be brought on by sustained poor postures. This is increasingly common in the recreational athlete who has a desk-bound job during the week.

Poor throwing and bowling techniques can contribute to developing and maintaining chronic shoulder issues as these activities require the cricketer to move his or her shoulder girdle in a high velocity.

The action of throwing requires supreme strength of muscles around the shoulder girdle. Often, this means working the structures around the shoulder beyond their capacity to perform in an abnormal pattern of movement.

A combination of the factors mentioned above can result in injuries to the rotator cuff, sub-acromial bursa, labrum, acromio clavicular ligaments and joints, which are common sources of pain around the shoulder girdle.

Hiding a player with a weak shoulder is a challenge that captains face. The cricketer with a weak shoulder is often a liability when fielding in the deep.

So, what can you do to prevent chronic shoulder injuries and improve on-field performance?

* If you have had a traumatic shoulder injury, complete an active rehab protocol following a period of rest.
* If you are in a desk-bound job, make sure you reinforce proper posture of the upper torso and strengthen your postural muscles.
* Condition your scapular (shoulder blades) stabilising muscles.
* Strengthen your rotator cuff muscles.
* Seek help from a qualified cricket coach to iron out technical deficiencies.
* Seek advice from your healthcare provider if self- management does not bring about a solution.

Negligence is an attribute that leads to chronic disorders. Never neglect an injury that will limit you from enjoying your game to the fullest. As an important team member, you should take charge of your fitness levels and strive to contribute more to the team’s cause.

Balachandran Sai Ram Kumar is a trained ergonomic and a health promotion consultant. He works as a Principal Physiotherapist for Synergy Physiotherapy and Sports. He conducts the ErgoFit workplace wellness corporate programme which combines ergonomics, health and wellness concepts. Synergy Physiotherapy and Sports operates the Medx back and neck fitness systems.

You can contact him via 64630905 or [email protected]

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